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literature

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Kramer, Larry (b. 1935)  

Controversial playwright, novelist, and essayist Larry Kramer has been a pioneer in the gay political response to AIDS in America.

Kramer was born into a well-to-do professional family in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1935. He completed a B.A. at Yale in 1957 and served in the army for a year after graduating. In 1958, he began a career in the entertainment industry, working first for the William Morris Agency and then for Columbia Pictures. His first professional writing was the screenplay for the 1969 movie adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love, which he also produced and for which he received an Academy Award nomination.

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Kramer gained prominence in the world of gay writing in 1978, when his novel Faggots was published. A scathing satire of the gay circuit in Manhattan and on Fire Island, the novel traces the life and neuroses of Fred Lemish, a middle-aged Jewish gay man looking for love in a world that only wants to have sex. The world of fast-lane gay New York becomes the real subject of the book, and Kramer's narrative focuses on the drug and alcohol abuse, the sado-masochism and the promiscuity that he sees as both typical and reprehensible.

The novel met with immediate hostility from reviewers in both the gay and straight press, yet ironically went on to become a best-seller. In 1987, when the novel was reissued, politics and disease had forced many changes in the community Kramer lampooned, and both gay and straight readers were considerably more laudatory of the book.

Although Faggots marked an important breakthrough novel for gay publishing, Kramer himself will most likely be remembered as an AIDS activist. In 1981, he cofounded Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York, the first community-based AIDS service organization in America. Disenchanted with what he perceived to be the lethal dangers of an uncontrollable AIDS bureaucracy, he founded AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in 1988, which became and remains one of the most powerful direct action political groups in America.

Spurred by his own HIV positivity and his work in the AIDS field, Kramer wrote The Normal Heart in 1986, one of the first artistic responses to the AIDS crisis. The play, which established Kramer as a dramatist, received the Dramatists Guild Marton Award, the City Lights Award, the Sarah Siddons Award for the best play of the year, and a nomination for an Olivier Award.

The Normal Heart tells the story of Ned Weeks, an AIDS activist who defies the AIDS service establishment and preaches for an extreme response to AIDS, including sexual abstinence. Like Faggots, The Normal Heart polarized the gay community, but unlike Faggots, it has been universally received as a major work of art.

Kramer's most recent writings have been direct political polemics, all of which have been gathered in Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist (1989). He continues to produce theatrical pieces, such as "The Destiny of Me" (1992), which extends the story of Ned Weeks, and some short fiction; however, at this point, there is little doubt that he will be best remembered as the man who almost single-handedly began the gay political response to AIDS in America.

Gregory W. Bredbeck

     

 
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A photograph of Larry Kramer in 1989 by Massimo Consoli.
  
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   Related Entries
  
social sciences >> Overview:  AIDS Activism

In the United States, glbtq people have played an integral and often leading role in AIDS activism, greatly influencing AIDS treatment and advocacy.

literature >> Overview:  AIDS Literature

In the twenty years since its first appearance in the West, AIDS has been the subject of a large body of literature, most of it written by gay men and much of it designed to expose readers as closely as possible to the emergency of the epidemic and the suffering of affected individuals.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

After Stonewall, gay male literature became focused as a movement, aided by the development of gay newspapers, magazines, and quarterlies and the founding of serious gay and lesbian bookstores.

literature >> Overview:  Contemporary Drama

Since Stonewall, gay and lesbian drama has flourished, especially in the United States.

social sciences >> Overview:  Fire Island

Two of the communities of Fire Island, New York--Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines--are famous as hedonistic resort towns for gay men and lesbians.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay Rights Movement, U. S.

The U.S. gay rights movement has made significant progress toward achieving equality for glbtq Americans, and in the process has become more inclusive and diverse, but much remains to be done.

literature >> Overview:  Jewish-American Literature

Jewish-American gay and lesbian literature is marked by its rich heritage, diverse subject matter, and thriving vitality.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Gay Male

Since World War II, the gay male novel has progressively flourished in England and especially in America.

arts >> Overview:  Screenwriters

Although film may be a director's rather than a writer's medium, gay and lesbian screenwriters have made significant contributions to both mainstream and independent film.

social sciences >> ACT UP

Using bold images and confrontational tactics, ACT UP worked to promote awareness of AIDS and challenge the complacency of politicians and government officials in the early years of the epidemic.

literature >> Barr, James (James Fugaté)

James Barr is the pseudonym under which James Fugaté published the popular novel Quatrefoil (1950) and other works, and which he used as an activist in the homophile movement of the 1950s.

literature >> Duplechan, Larry

Lambda Award-winning author Larry Duplechan is best known for Blackbird (1987), a coming of age novel about a black teenager growing up in the bland outer suburbs of Los Angeles in the 1970s.

literature >> Hoffman, William M.

Playwright, librettist, and educator William M. Hoffman is best known for his ground-breaking play As Is, one of the first theatrical works to focus on the AIDS epidemic.

arts >> Mantello, Joe

Having staged a variety of well-received and award-winning productions, actor-turned-director Joe Mantello has emerged as one of the most accomplished artists now working in the American theater.

arts >> Mitchell, John Cameron

While he had already achieved recognition as an actor, the multiple talents of performer, writer, and filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell came to wide public notice in 2001 with the release of his prize-winning film, Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

literature >> Sherman, Martin

Best known for his groundbreaking play Bent, iconoclastic playwright and screenwriter Martin Sherman has created an impressive body of work.

literature >> Signorile, Michelangelo

Michelangelo Signorile is a prolific, and often provocative, writer and activist whose books and articles, radio show, newspaper columns, and website champion the cause of glbtq rights.


    Bibliography
   

Bergman, David. Gaiety Transfigured: Gay Self-Representation in American Literature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.

Duberman, Martin. Review of Faggots. The New Republic 180:1 (January 6, 1979): 30-32.

Lahr, John. "Camp Tales." The New York Times Book Review (January 14, 1979): 39-40.

McCracken, Samuel. Review of Faggots. Commentary 67:1 (January 1979): 19-29.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Bredbeck, Gregory W.  
    Entry Title: Kramer, Larry  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 24, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/kramer_l.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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